Addressing Heightened Threats
With preparedness and vigilance, American Jewish community works on additional security
- By Michael Masters
- Mar 01, 2019
Over the last several years, the United States has averaged
one active shooter incident every two weeks. On
the morning of Oct. 27, one such incident shattered
the calm of a quiet Saturday morning in Pittsburgh,
Pa. On that morning, an individual armed with
an assault rifle entered a Jewish house of worship, the Tree of Life
Congregation, and opened fire on congregants gathered for Saturday
morning prayer—killing 11 and wounding seven, including four
responding police officers.
The attack on a Jewish institution comes amidst unprecedented
year-over-year increases in anti-Semitic incidents and hate crimes directed
against the Jewish community in North America. The offender
in the Pittsburgh incident had made numerous anti-Semitic postings
on social media prior to his attack.
Just two weeks after the events of Pittsburgh, federal law enforcement
announced the arrest in Toledo, Ohio, of an individual associated
with the so-called Islamic State who was allegedly planning an
attack on a synagogue in the area. He planned to use assault rifles
and specifically referenced being inspired by the attack in Pittsburgh.
More recently, a person in Washington state, who espoused anti-Semitic
views, was arrested after making similar threats to carry out a
mass attack targeting the Jewish community.
While some view the threats as new, the reality is that the Jewish
community has been facing these issues and proactively working to
address them for years. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, and acknowledging
a growing threat against the community, the leadership of the
American Jewish community recognized the need for a group of professionals
with backgrounds in homeland security, law enforcement,
intelligence, the military and national security to focus exclusively on
safety and security matters.
Since 2003, the Secure Community Network (SCN) has met that
need as the official homeland security and safety initiative of the organized
Jewish community in North America.
Serving 147 Jewish Federations, 50 partner organizations and over
300 independent communities, SCN provides timely, credible threat
and incident information to both law enforcement and community
partners, serves as the community’s formal liaison with federal law
enforcement and coordinates closely with state and local law enforcement
partners. SCN works with communities and partners across
North America to develop and implement strategic frameworks that
enhance the safety and security of the Jewish people, developing best
practice policies and procedures, undertaking threat and vulnerability
assessments, coordinating training and education, offering consultation
on safety and security matters and providing crisis management
support during critical incidents.
Recognized by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as
a best practice example of how a faith-based community can work to
address safety and security, SCN’s efforts over the past 15 years have
been devoted to ensuring that Jewish organizations, communities, life
and culture can not only exist, but flourish. At the same time, SCN
has worked to support and assist other faith-based organizations and
communities that have faced similar threats. If our experience can be
used in partnership with other communities of faith to enhance their
safety, we are duty-bound to work together.
One area where we have made a demonstrable difference is with
training on active threat events, and Pittsburgh is an example of the
life-saving impact that can result.
For years, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh has taken
proactive steps to enhance its security posture. In 2017, in consultation
with SCN, the Pittsburgh Federation hired a Community Security
Director to implement and oversee standardized, best practice
safety and security measures for the community, its institutions and
its members. One key component of that strategy was the delivery of
active threat training.
Since January 2017, Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh security
director Brad Orsini, a retired FBI special agent specializing
in crisis management, trained more than 5,600 people on various response
efforts, including active threat/active shooter response, hate
crimes reporting and “Stop the Bleed” techniques to be used in the
event of an emergency.
The value of our approach to security is not theoretical.
An assessment was undertaken at the Tree of Life Congregation
to discuss security policies and procedures.
In the months prior to the attack, Orsini provided active threat
training at the Tree of Life Congregation. Survivors of the deadliest
attack on the American Jewish community in the history of the
United States have noted how that training helped save lives and
Orsini and the Tree of Life Congregation rabbi also discussed the
need for someone to be able to call 911 during Shabbat—a time when
observant Jews typically do not use the telephone, or even carry a cell
phone—in case of an emergency. The rabbi ultimately agreed, and it
was his call that first alerted law enforcement to the attack.
The Jewish community’s standardized approach to security, undertaken
in partnership between SCN and local organizations, and
inclusive of assessments, information sharing, capability enhancement
and training, among other elements, pays dividends. It can save
lives. It has saved lives.
SCN is committed to taking lessons learned from experience to
enhance the safety and security of our community. Recognizing the
value of tailored content, SCN plans to unveil best practice active
threat training developed with case studies and examples specifically
situated for the Jewish community.
Moreover, we are working through networks and associations to
deliver active threat training to keep our most vulnerable populations
and our most sacred spaces safe—from houses of worship to schools
and community centers.
While threats to the Jewish community are persistent and dynamic,
succumbing to fear has never been an option. Instead, SCN is
committed to fostering a sense of empowerment within communities.
By providing institutions and individuals with the training and tools
necessary to address threats they may face, we are enabling them to
respond with confidence and exhibit resilience.
With this comprehensive and strategic approach, SCN continues to
work towards the same mission with which it was founded: to enhance
the safety and security of the Jewish community in North America. We
have made tremendous progress, but know there is more to do.
Jewish tradition instructs that “we do not rely on miracles.”
Through our efforts and those of our partners, we will maintain
and strengthen our faith with the resolve that the
responsibility for the safety and security of our
community today—and for future generations rests
firmly in our own hands.
This article originally appeared in the March 2019 issue of Security Today.